Make Your Escape: How to Nail the Bike Descent

Take it from these super villains: A well-executed downhill exit makes for a quick getaway. Nail the perfect descent position with our pro tips.

There’s an old cycling adage that goes: “You can’t win the race on the bike descent, but you can lose it.” Anyone looking for extra seconds in their next bike leg should be sure to cast their eyes downhill. Bryant Howard, USA Triathlon coaching education manager and level 2 certified USAT coach, says that “the most important thing is to choose the position that matches your skill and comfort level on the bike, as different positions may increase speed/efficiency, but come with higher levels of risk.” So even if your chin is dragging on the pavement, if you’re not comfortable, you won’t be fast. “A skilled rider controls the bike with the nose of the saddle more than with the hands, so engaging the core and legs to guide the bike tends to be safer and more effective when descending at high speed,” he adds. The best way to an efficient downhill, according to Howard, is the body position that gets you down the hill safely. If you’re ready to take your downhill to the next level, skip the bad guy mask but otherwise mimic these two villainous options:

Bike Descent Technique: Basic Evil Tuck

bike descent
Illustration by Oliver Baker.

The best place to make like an anti-hero is with your hands on the basebars or drops (for a road setup) in a low horizontal position, elbows bent at a right angle, knees close to the frame, and pedals at three o’clock and nine o’clock. “The basic tuck is faster than pedaling in the riding position and keeps the hands near the brake level to safely modulate speed,” Howard says. “To learn the skill, I have athletes slide back in the saddle just enough so they begin to feel the saddle on the inside of their thighs,” he says. “This will enhance their connection with the bike and improve their ability to control it at a high speed.”

Bike Descent Technique: The Pantani Superevil Tuck

Bike Descent
Illustration by Oliver Baker.

For a faster choice, practice the option named after famed cyclist descender Marco Pantani (and co-opted by the villain above). “In this position, your hands, feet, and knees are similar to the basic tuck, but the rider’s body is back far enough to rest the torso on the saddle in a lower and more aerodynamic position,” Howard says. Imagine resting your chest on the seat. “This is faster, but slightly less stable than the basic tuck and should be practiced at slower speed before using on a descent.” This is a technique reserved for only the most experienced/powerful triathletes/evil villains.

Prepare Your Getaway with these Bike Descent Strength Exercises

Handling and mastering the bike descent takes practice, but you can work key muscles to help gain the strength and stabilization needed to master descending. Ian Murray, USAT level 3 coach and head coach of the Los Angeles Tri Club, recommends these key exercises. Evil cackling optional:

Why-So-Serious Planks

bike descent
Illustration by Oliver Baker.

Begin on your hands and toes in a pushup position. Keep your torso straight, and pull your belly button up toward your spine. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. “Core strength is mandatory to remain stable and balanced on a bicycle at all times,” Murray says of how this move applies to the bike descent. “That need is perhaps emphasized when going downhill fast.”

Calamity Clam Shells

Illustration by Oliver Baker.

Lie on your right side, with both knees slightly bent about 90-degrees, and your legs stacked on top of each other. Keeping your ankles together, open and close your knees, lift your left knee about six inches. Then perform the exercise lying on your left side, and lift and lower your right knee. Do 15 reps on each side. “The hip stabilizers that help control the femur are what needs targeting here,” Murray says. Stronger stabilizers mean a more consistent line during a bike descent.

Single-Leg Bad Guy Squats

Illustration by Oliver Baker.

Stand on your right leg only. Place both arms across your chest. Bend from your right knee and both hips, lower your body down about 10-12 inches. Stand up straight to complete one rep. Next, stand only on your left leg, and lower your body down. Do 15 reps on each side. “Leg strength is always needed for cycling, and leg stabilization specifically can help an athlete feel confident when coasting downhill at high speed and when pressuring the outside pedal in a descending turn,” Murray explains.

Doomsday Dumbbell Bench Press

Illustration by Oliver Baker.

Lie on your back and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Begin with both arms straight up so your hands are directly over your shoulders. In one motion, bend both elbows, keep your forearms vertical, and lower them toward the floor. Stop when your elbows are shoulder level. Return to your straight-arm position to complete one rep. Do 15 reps. “When descending fast, triathletes should be out of the aerobars and holding the bike steady with a wider grip (near the brakes), on the base bar. This position demands strength and stabilization from the chest and arms,” Murray says of how it aids in the bike descent.